Even before GRACE Marketplace, a multi-resource facility for the homeless located off Waldo Road, opened in June 2014, homeless men and women migrated from across the city to set up tents in the adjacent land. Half of the residents agreed to the name Dignity Village. Since then, the city has purchased the 10 acres the camp stands on and voted to take responsibility for the encampment following two violent attacks in April.
Helping Hands, a medical clinic for the homeless, helped install sinks and two showers and distributed necessities like tents, flashlights, cleaning supplies and toilet paper. Being next to the GRACE facilities, the over-200 residents of Dignity Village can receive mail, store belongings and use the resources such as computer labs and libraries.
Bo Diddley Plaza has been closed since February. The residents of Tent City, an encampment in the woods south of the Gainesville-Hawthorne trail, were evicted in July 2014. And the directors of St. Francis House have said they are concerned about closing due to lack of funds. As it stands, Dignity Village is one of the only places in the city for a homeless person to live.
To learn more about volunteering at GRACE Marketplace, check out their volunteer page. For more opportunities to donate and regular updates, follow them on Facebook.
Peter Dannenhoffer, 53, has lived in Dignity Village since August 2014 after losing his job as a maintenance worker at Santa Fe Crossings. “I’m 53 years old, I can’t run up and down stairs with couches anymore,” he said. “I was married and had my $250,000 house paid off, but when I got laid off I was all on-again off-again employment. Here I am now, homeless.” He paused. “Actually, I call it houseless--because I do have a home...to be honest, living here has given me a new purpose. I lost my family and burned a lot of bridges through my alcoholism and through prescribed drugs, you know? Now I don’t take any opiates or benzos and I go to Helping Hands, which is a great asset for a lot of people out here.”
A view inside Dannenhoffer’s home. “I’ve got one of the better set-ups out here,” Dannenhoffer said. “The issue is that these tents belong in the closet most of the time, not out in the sun being lived in for six months or a year.”
“[GRACE Marketplace] is very nice, and they help us with everything, really,” said Judith Flarity, 60. “[GRACE] has certain people you can talk to, and if one person can’t help you, they’ll send you to another one that can, and they are all just so nice. Even if you need someone to just talk to and vent, they will do that.”
Dignity Village resident Shane Cronin, 47.
“I used to be in the dorms, but because of the Mouth of the South,” 63-year-old resident Elizabeth Guerry said, referring to her dog, Bob Barker, “and the fact that you had to be up at 6 a.m. to be out of the dorm by 7. Then you have to stay out under the pavilion all day long, no matter what the weather is like, and they don’t let you back in the dorms until 7 in the evening. During that big Fourth of July storm we had to be out under the pavilion all day, and rain and wind was coming in from all directions, and we were shivering, but they never came to let us in the dorms.”
Clothing hangs from string affixed to a tarp in one of the structures.
Guerry’s Dachshund, Bob Barker, peeks through the window of her camper.
Residents of Dignity Village have set up tents throughout the encampment’s 10 acres. The seat of a car pokes through the window of one tent. “Camping should be a three-day weekend, not a lifestyle,” Guerry said. “I am trying to find some low-income housing, especially with the cold weather coming soon.”
Rlei Beighley, 47, kneels next to his dog, Tank. In August, advocates at the St. Francis Pet Care Clinic and the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine came to provide food and vet care.
Scott Beveridge, 52, built his elaborate wooden house, which he calls Pallet Palace.
Resident Roger Manos holds up a Double Bubble bucket full of his loot--he gathered dandelion greens, grape leaves and shepherd's needle from the surrounding land.
Shoes scattered outside one of the many tents that make up Dignity Village, which is occupied by over 200 people.